Category: film and animation

Anime Autobiography – Pokemon and Spirited Away

I’ve been in a bit of a nostalgic mood lately, looking back at my experience with anime and reminiscing on my development as a fan. So, I thought it may be interesting to start a series of posts outlining that evolution.

Like many fans my age, Pokemon gets credit as the first anime I ever watched. Actually, video games probably sparked my interest in Japanese media in general. As a huge Nintendo fan, most of my favourite games have always been Japanese, and even as a child I enjoyed reading about the people who made the games I enjoy, which made me amenable to other pieces of popular culture to cross the Pacific.…

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Jurassic Park (film)

Yesterday, I watched Jurassic Park for the first time in a solid twelve years or so. It was a favourite film of mine as a child, and also one of my family’s the most memorable theatre moments, at least for my parents. Little five-year-old me was apparently so terrified I almost crawled over the back of the seat, but I still got my parents to take me to see it multiple times after that (they’d learned their lesson, though, and we sat in the back row on future visits). On VHS, I watched the film constantly, bought lots of the toys, and overall it was a defining film for my childhood.

So, when it came out on glorious blu-ray, I had to watch it again. I did have some apprehension, though – often, things I liked as a child don’t stand up to an adult’s more refined taste. Luckily, Jurassic Park stood the test of time brilliantly, and I found I still love this film. I still get excited at the sight of dinosaurs, and I found that I appreciate the film more than I did as a child. Things I didn’t care about then, like character motivations or plot structure, impressed me this go-around. For exmple, I didn’t used to really understand, or care, why the guests were brought to the island, that Malcolm occasionally hit on Sattler, that Muldoon seems obsessed with the raptors, etc.

On the downside, I also noticed a few flaws, but they were mostly minor things. For one thing, genetics does not work that way! Also, that tyrannosaur really gets around. He shows up seemingly out of the blue during the stampede scene, and again during the finale comes out of nowhere indoors to surprise the raptors. How did neither the raptors nor the humans notice a giant tyrannosaur coming in through the back door? Were tyrannosaurs stealth hunters? The CIA needs to get in touch with that thing!

The film looks great on blu-ray, and the special effects still impressed me. It helps that many of the dinosaurs were animatronic, rather than computer animated. I’m far from the first to say this, but most films just look a lot better when there actually is something in front of the camera.

Of course, now I’m also curious about the novel. Michael Chrichton was my favourite author when I was younger, but I haven’t read anything of his in years. Just another thing to add to my backlog of books, I suppose.…

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The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Damn it, Gainax.

That’s the three-word version of my review of The Mystic Archives of Dantalian. To expand a bit, I did actually enjoy the anime, though that makes the disappointment of the last episode worse. To start with the good, though, the art was well-done, the animation fluid (a few static scenes excepted), and the music was excellent. I really liked the opening and ending sequences. Others have described the show’s atmosphere as its strongest point, and I agree. Edgar Allan Poe would probably approve. Really, all I wanted going in was Gosick with a better plot, and that’s what the first episode or two seemed to promise. A similar atmosphere but with an adult, competent protagonist in Hugh Anthony Disward and a more tolerable tsundere (or whatever word you want to use) in Dalian. Add an interesting premise with the phantom books, and as long as the writers come up with a competent plot, we have an excellent series.

Unfortunately, the plot’s the problem.

Up to the last episode, Dantalian‘s main problem was simply that it didn’t really go anywhere. Gainax took an episodic approach, which is fine, and most episodes held my interest, though there were a couple serious missteps. In episode three, for example, there’s a half-episode story about a group of children exposed to the phantom book The Book of Wisdom, which turns them into a bunch of geniuses. Their teacher (who gave them the book originally) leads Hugh and Dalian to a shed where they’re all hanging out discussing philosophy and politics and such, and they tell our brave heroes that they plan… not to do anything. Because plotting to take over the world or whatever would be futile or pointless or something. So, they’ll just continue to hang out and keep to themselves.

I guess that episode did subvert my expectations, but it hardly makes for a satisfying story and is the most flagrant example of episodes that fail to progress anything. Again, though, most episodes are good enough to at least make Dantalian a B-level endeavour. That is, until the finale.

In episode eleven, we briefly meet the Red Biblioprincess Raziel and her keykeeper, who’s just called the Professor. In the twelfth and final episode, they plan to create a zombie army in London by using newspapers as phantom books to turn the readers into zombies. Several problems come to mind. First of all, the whole idea seems silly and rather cliché. Second, they’re assuming everyone or almost everyone in London will read their newspaper. Third, what’s their motive? I don’t have a clue, and here’s where the episodic approach falls apart. This story arc really needed at least a couple episodes to develop.

Fourth problem, there’s a small flaw in the plan. As one NicoNico commenter sarcastically despaired, “If only newspaper could be easily destroyed by fire or liquid…” As it turns out, Hal and Flamberge, another keykeeper/biblioprincess duo, show up and do destroy the newspapers with fire. These two had an entire episode (ep. six) devoted to them, but that was all we’d seen of them so far, so their appearance (and quick disappearance) seems almost random. As for the Professor and Raziel, after seeing their newspapers burn they just give up and go home in about as bad an anticlimax as I’ve seen, on par with the genius kids from episode three.

We also get more of the Madokami look-alike, but honestly Gainax lost me if they ever explained what place she’s in, what relationship it has with the real world, or who she is. Hugh also gets to have an Evangelion moment (think Shinji sitting on a chair introspecting).

All that said, I’d still probably buy a Blu-Ray release, if it comes out in the US. It’s pretty enough to look at to justify that. I’d also be willing to try out the light novels the show’s based on. For now, though, it’s time to start on the new anime season (oh yeah, and I was one of the proud few who finished and enjoyed Cat God, but I doubt that’d be worth a separate review).

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Oh, the Things I Watch

So, armed with my new subscription to Crunchyroll, because like the rest of my generation I’m impatient and can’t wait a week for new anime episodes, I’ve set to watching this season’s new shows as they come out. What do I settle on first?

Yeah, Cat God. I know it wasn’t that long ago I declared moe dead to me, but this show pushes too many of my buttons. I can’t resist catgirls. I love shows like Oh, My Goddess! and Spice and Wolf with goddess girlfriends/roommates/traveling partners/whatever. I love shows dealing with the supernatural in general, really.

The show’s pretty average, actually. Episode 1 was too chaotic, but episode 2 fixed that. The jokes aren’t too bad. The animation meets par, but won’t blow anyone away. Call it ‘Mostly harmless’, I guess.

I think I can redeem myself by also watching Gainax’s new show, The Mystic Archives of Dantalian, this time via Nico Nico’s streaming. All I really want from the show is Gosick but with better writing. Two episodes in, I have high hopes. I can tell I’m not the only one, since most of the discussion I’ve seen of it so far has been praise for not having the annoying habits of other shows, and Gosick in particular. Dantalian has, of all things, a competent protagonist, a girl with a sharp tongue but not unnecessarily bitchy, and mysteries that don’t require not just a suspension but outright termination of disbelief.

I especially love the show’s artwork and atmosphere.

I’m also using Crunchyroll to continue Hanasaku Iroha from last season, and for Fist of the North Star for some old-school action.…

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A-Kon 2011

I spent this past weekend at A-Kon, one of two anime conventions held in the Dallas area and the longest-running convention in the US (AFAIK). I had fun spending time with my sister and meeting with a couple friends, which is typically the highlight of any convention anyway, and also went to a pretty good panel on Kon Satoshi given by Helen McCarthy and Daniel Briscoe, but honestly I probably won’t go next year.

Though A-Kon isn’t too bad, I just don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. For one thing, the novelty has simply worn off, I can get much of the stuff in the Dealer’s Room online, and most of the art in the Artists’ Alley isn’t worth buying. Most importantly for me, though, A-Kon just doesn’t bring in guests that I care about.

Here, I prefer the other Dallas convention, AnimeFest, which despite being smaller does a better job coming up with interesting panels. Mainly, I’m interested in hearing from Japanese people – that is, the ones who make these comics and cartoons. I couldn’t care less about American voice actors, webcomic artists, and so on. No doubt there are a lot of logistical difficulties in bringing someone halfway across the world just to give a few panels over a weekend, but AnimeFest has done just that for several years now. Katayama Kazuyoshi came last year, and Sato Dai has come a few years in a row (and has always been very entertaining and informative). I may still end up going to A-Kon next year, if I have some friends to go with or if they do come up with a decent guest, but otherwise I’ll just stick with the smaller convention.…

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The Sudden Death of Moe

Well, for me, anyway. Moe has been around for several years and far be it from me to predict when it’ll end, but for me it died while reading vol. two of Kakifly’s K-On!

I don’t think K-On! itself caused it; I did like the first season of the anime adaptation, though I never watched season two. Rather, while about halfway through the graphic novel, I realised that I just didn’t care about this story. I think the sudden realisation may stem from a recent episode of the ANNcast podcast, where one of the co-hosts (Justin Zevakis, IIRC) commented that, as a grown man, he had no reason to care about what a group of high school girls are doing.

Actually, maybe my distaste isn’t with moe per se, but with high school comedies. The first graphic novel I really got into was Azumanga Daioh, by Azuma Kiyohiko. At the time, I was in high school, so watching a bunch of high schoolers was relevant to my interests, even (or perhaps especially) if they were girls. Since then, though, I’ve seen several other shows with the same setting, some of which I’m sure I’ll still like, but at this point I graduated high school five years ago. The setting seems really trivial, and honestly some stories suffer from the lack of gravity inherent in most teenage relationships. ToraDora had this problem – though the urgency the characters felt to clarify everyone’s feelings may have seemed important from their point of view, I found that sense of urgency unnecessary.…

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Endless Eight Revisited

I marathon’d Haruhi season two’s ‘Endless Eight’ arc yesterday with my sister. The first time I watched E8, it was through fansubs uploaded to Youtube, and the highlight was really just watching the comments get increasingly irate with every episode. Similarly, the highlight of watching the official DVD release was the commentary reel my sister and I provided.

Like many fans, I’m still not sure what to make of the whole endeavour. The studio, Kyoto Animation, put too much effort in the animation for this to be a mere instance of laziness, or even a deliberate lowering of expectations for the upcoming Haruhi film as a bold few have suggested. Some fans, my sister included, did enjoy noting all the differences between each episode, and E8 could be viewed as an experiment in how many different ways one could animate the same events. Using a flagship franchise like this for experimentation, though, seems like a tremendously ballsy move.

As for me, I’m quite comfortable a-sitting on a fence on this one, beyond noting that, while I appreciate KyoAni’s boldness, if that’s what it is, and greatly enjoyed the drama of a thoroughly alienated fanbase, ultimately I did not enjoy the actual show, and would place the experiment, if that’s even what it was, in the ‘noble failure’ category.…

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FLCL on Blu-Ray

I finally got hold of the long-awaited blu-ray edition of FLCL, which is second only to serial experiments lain among my favourite (and most-watched) anime. Just owning the whole series gives me sufficient cause to celebrate, since I only own vols. 1 and 3 of the previous release (plus the full series as a bootleg).

I’ve read that the Japanese edition had serious problems with video quality, so North American publisher Funimation did their own remastering. The end result looks very good. There were moments when lines became noticeably jagged or the screen looked a bit fuzzy, so one could easily tell that this show came out before HDTVs were common, but I think they do look better than the original DVD release. If you already have the old DVDs and aren’t a big fan, though, it’s probably not worth the purchase.

On a final note, this is the first post I’ve written via my iPhone, so if anything looks weird that’s probably why.…

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Ghost Hound

I finished the anime Ghost Hound last night, which an acquaintance of mine recommended to me a while back. Apparently, some of the same staff who worked on serial experiments lain, which I loved, also worked on Ghost Hound, including writer Konaka Chiaki. The resemblance was obvious, too, since both tackle similar themes and share some stylistic touches (like extreme close-ups of people’s eyes or mouth).

Overall, it’s an excellent series. Good animation, likable characters, skillful plotting, all the things one checks for. The ending should ideally have been two episodes instead of one, since it felt rushed and everything turned out unbelievably hunky-dory. Overall, though, I felt satisfied.

Even aside from the lain connection, though, it’s the type of show I tend to enjoy. Most premises built on a polytheistic or animistic mythology appeal to me. Perhaps a world populated by the supernatural offers an intriguing contrast to the materialist worldview common in the United States.…

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Last Exile

I watched Last Exile the other day, after a couple years of seeing several people whose opinion I respect speak well of it. Very seldom am I led astray by those I trust, especially when the work in question gets near-universal praise as Last Exile does. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing someone who outright dislikes it.

Yet, I dropped it after just two episodes.

There were a few problems, but two factors especially turned me off right away. First, ugly computer-generated aircraft. CG animation almost always looks bad anyway, but looks especially jarring when used with traditional 2D animation. To the show’s credit, though, the rest of the animation looked good.

Second, the two protagonists irritated the hell out of me. Both fall into the archetype I call the ‘noble retard,’ a character who always does the right thing even if it’s plainly impossible, suicidal, and possibly not even worthwhile. Emiya in Fate / Stay Night and the male lead (whatever his name was) in Elfen Lied both fit the archetype, and dragged down both shows. Two of them together, though, is just too much for me.

Maybe I’ll give this show another chance down the road – two episodes on a seven-DVD series isn’t all that much, after all – especially given the praise it gets. For now, though, I’ll have to put it down as one of the bigger disappointments I’ve had recently.…

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